Let Our Children Play

(I’ll be on spring break until April 7. In the meantime, post your comments here or on the Open Dialogue post.)

Since I know that free play is critically important to young children’s development (doesn’t everyone know that?), I’ve been really disturbed by the recent articles on recess coaches. But I was especially saddened when I read an op-ed in Friday’s New York Times by David Elkind, the author of The Hurried Child, a man I consider to be the grandfather of reasonable parenting.

Elkind readily admitted that in the past he would have been opposed to recess coaches. But he states that childhood as we knew it has disappeared, that the culture of childhood no longer exists, and that children no longer experience peer socialization. Rather than calling for an end to all of the nonsense, though, he writes that recess coaches are likely to be a good influence.

I think Elkind has set up a false dichotomy. If kids don’t know how to play anymore, then we need to give them time to play. If kids don’t have time for play, then we need to ensure that they have time to play. But we don’t have to either abolish recess in favor of more academics or have recess coaches. We need to let children play. And we need to let schools know that we won’t abide an end to real recess altogether.

A High School Student Speaks Out – Why I Cheat

A sophomore wrote the following Comment, which explains not only why students cheat, but gives a pretty good rundown of the types and amount of work many high schoolers get each night.

Why I Cheat
by a High School Sophomore

To start off, I’m a sophomore in a relatively prestigious private institution; I have an IQ over 180. I don’t need to cheat. But why wouldn’t I? Hell, I don’t bother on tests, I get all the answers right before most kids in my class, but the sheer volume of homework I receive every night is absolutely ridiculous! Tell me, if I’m already investing 8 hours in school, 2 in sports, 2 in other ECs, how in the hell do my teachers expect me to add 6 more hours to homework?

I’m not stupid, it’s not a matter of me being slow with my work, there just aren’t enough hours in a day for school, rugby practice, play rehearsal, and that much homework! I’ll give a run-down of what I’m supposed to do tonight:

AP U.S. History: Take (meticulous) notes on chapters 40?–?43 (the end of the text, thank [insert deity here].) Prepare for in-class essay on any thing that occurred during Roosevelt’s presidency. Okay, so that’s not so bad, but we still have another 6 classes to cover.

English II: Read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and be prepared for a test tomorrow or the next day. Two work sheets on Moby Dick. I should probably also start on the autobiography due next week, since I can’t really cheat on that.

Latin II: Translate two books of Jason, test tomorrow.

Algebra II/Trig: 78 problems covering material that our teacher has conveniently for gotten to teach us.

Biology: Not too bad, just read and summarize a few articles from Scientific American and write up a lab report.

Gym (yes, gym): Look up all sorts of vocabulary concerning sports that nobody has played since the middle ages, and memorize it in two days

AP Stat: Busyworkbusyworkbusyworkbusyworkbusywork

How the staff a) expects students to do this much work while maintaining sleep/sanity (luckily I’m an insomniac and I went insane long, long ago) and b) thinks that any body does some of this ridiculous @%!&, is absolutely beyond me.

The only kids who don’t cheat are the kinds in all fundamentals classes who don’t know any better. If I could begin to describe to you the network of cheating that runs beneath this school, well, you probably wouldn’t really be all that surprised, but it’s still ridiculous.

Anyway, I feels good to get this off my chest. I predict that nobody will ever read this rant, but if you do, and by some miracle you made it here to the end, please know that this post was fueled by 12 sleepless nights, a fever, and a mos­quito that has been in my room for the past hour that is pissing me the hell off.

Thank you, good night.

Kindergarten Today

The Class of 2022, a project of the Star News of North Carolina, is following a dozen kindergartners from around the Cape Fear region through their high school graduations to see what it’s like to grow up during the early years of the 21st century. Here’s a description of what kindergarten is like for these students:

“People have this conception of kindergarten as everybody gets cookies and milk and takes a nap, and you’re just not going to see that anymore,” said Kathy Fox, associate professor in the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “The focus on academics has been pushed downward.”

In her 22 years teaching preschool through second grade, Fox has watched unstructured playtime shrink, replaced by worksheets and nightly homework. Fox remembers the shift starting in the 1990s, when studies ranked students in the United States well below those in other developed nations like Japan in math and reading. There was a push to close that gap, Fox recalls, and one solution was to start emphasizing academic subjects at a younger age.

Walking into [a] classroom at Castle Hayne Elementary, parents will see fewer toys and more tables and chairs than they might expect, according to teacher Tina Weldon. Students have a 30-minute recess every day, and the rest of the time is scheduled for specific activities. The school day has stretched, from half a day to the full six and a half hours.

“It seems like kindergarten now is like what first or second grade was like when I was in school,” Weldon said.,

Read the story here.

Quebec Report Advises Re-Examining Elementary School Homework

(I really enjoyed last week’s open dialogue and over the next few weeks I’ll be putting some of the comments into main posts. Don’t wait until the next Open Dialogue week to let me know what’s on your mind. Post a comment, drop me an email, or let me know that you’d like to write a guest blog entry.)

The Conseil supérieur de l’éducation, an influential body that advises the Quebec government, just issued a 124-page report recommending that elementary school homework be re-examined, refocused, and maybe even abolished.

In addition to finding that scientific studies show no definitive link between homework and academic success, the report took into account the reality of today’s families, where many are headed by single parents or where both parents work, and where there is little time to help children with homework.

You can read the story here.

A Teacher Speaks Out – Testing

I saw this post on Teachers Net:

You know that you have trained your class to ignore
distractions well when someone throws up DURING state
testing and no one even flinches and continues with their
testing!

No lie!

My classroom!

Today!

Luckily he missed the book by an inch and hit the trashcan
which I had shoved in front of his face when I saw him
starting to turn green!

Nurse is right across the hall, off he goes, trashcan and all!

First question the principal asks me at the break is… did
anything hit the test book? Evidently there is some major
procedure involving fort knox and some security company
trained by the cia and fbi that needs to be followed when
someone barfs on the book!

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Sharon, Connecticut

About a month ago, I posted a piece by Fred Baumgarten, the father of two daughters in public school in Sharon, Connecticut, who had been talking to the other parents in his daughter’s fifth-grade class about homework. I recently checked to see what kind of progress he’s making.

He writes all about it on his blog, homework headaches.

Should Homework be Reduced – 13 support; 3 opposed; 1 undecided; 4 no response
by Fred Baumgarten

As of today, out of 21 fifth grade families in our school, 12 have indicated their support of my efforts to reduce and improve homework; 3 are opposed (2 of them strongly; one just responded to another recent e-mail thus: “We do not support your movement. I thought lack of our response would have given you some indication”); 1 is provisionally supportive but still researching it; and 5 have not responded to e-mails and phone messages.

In my latest e-mail I invited those parents who are supportive or who had not responded to join me at a meeting with the principal. None have responded positively to the invitation.

Nevertheless, I have gone ahead and scheduled a meeting with the principal. Given that more than half of the families are in support, and greater than 75% of those who responded are in support, I feel I have a pretty strong case for proceeding.

Continue reading “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Sharon, Connecticut”

A Teenager Speaks Out – Teens Need More Sleep

I came across this nicely written piece by a teenager in his local newspaper, The Estacada News.


Zzz…Teenagers need more sleep
School board should consider late start for high school, junior high students
BY RUSS CAREY

It is time for the Estacada School District to switch the school starting time of the high school and junior high schools with that of the grade schools. Today’s teens are sleep-deprived.

There are many studies that clearly show that teens need more sleep that they are getting. I believe that the junior high and high school classes should begin later in the morning to help solve this problem.

At present, classes for high school and junior high school students begin at 7:45 a.m., and grade school classes begin at 9:05 a.m. I would like to propose switching these two times. My reasons: Teenagers have more homework, more extra-curricular activities and require more sleep than younger children. This change would give the older students the extra time for the sleep they need to succeed.

Read the rest of the piece here.